UPDATE: 10:20 a.m. Friday:
Runways at the Durango-La Plata County Airport have been closed to inbound and outbound flights until at least 11 a.m.
The United Airlines flight scheduled to arrive at 9:51 a.m. has been canceled, the American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. was diverted to Albuquerque, and American’s flight from Phoenix scheduled to arrive at 11:27 a.m. has been canceled.
Whiteout conditions have been reported in several areas of La Plata County.
According to the scanner, roads east of Durango are so bad, law enforcement did not feel safe responding to call on County Road 516 south of Bayfield.
Residents should expect heavy snow throughout the day, said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“The storm will be winding down this evening,” Ramey said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s coming to an end. You’ll have a break from the heavy snow, but there will still be snow showers.”
Southwest Colorado residents should expect to bundle up for much of the winter, Ramey said.
“It’s going to be brutally cold through the month of January and maybe from February into March,” he said. “When snow moves into the valleys during the shortest days of the year, it tends to stay there. Highs will be below freezing, and lows will be below zero at night.”
The current forecast calls for a high of 28 degrees Friday, with a low of minus 2 degrees overnight and a high of 24 degrees Saturday. There is still a 30 percent chance of snow Saturday during the day, dropping to 20 percent overnight Saturday before skies clear Sunday.
Friday marks the fourth day in a row with snowy weather and icy roads. On Friday morning, one weary snowplow driver told Central Dispatch, “Could you tell everyone who’s wishing for a white Christmas, they can stop now?”
UPDATE: 9:45 a.m. Friday:
Red Mountain Pass has been closed because of adverse conditions. Just as with Wolf Creek, Molas and Coal Bank passes, there is no estimated time of reopening.
“The avalanche watcher up there said it’s snowing at rates of 2 to 3 inches an hour,” said Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. “Avalanches are running on Red Mountain, and it may stay closed into (Saturday).”
Winds are gusting up to 70 mph on the pass, he said.
“With this convection, we might have considered bringing out the big gun and issuing a blizzard warning up there, because that is essentially what’s happening there,” Ramey said. “But since it’s closed anyway, it doesn’t really matter.”
The weather service has issued a blizzard warning for Wolf Creek and Cumbres passes until 11 p.m. Friday.
According to the scanner, U.S. Highway 84 south from Pagosa Springs, where drivers detoured because of the Wolf Creek Pass closure, is icy and several vehicles have slid off the road. Tow trucks have been requested, and the Colorado Department of Transportation is planning to sand.
Motorists considering travel by road Friday may want to reconsider. Roads are icy, and officers are responding to numerous reports of vehicles in the ditch and minor crashes. CDOT is reporting all area highways are icy and snow-packed.
Residents west of Cortez reported whiteout conditions earlier Friday morning, but it may be improving, Ramey said.
Durango-La Plata County Airport is reporting that United Airlines Flight 4878, scheduled to arrive at 9:52 a.m., has been delayed to at least 11:22 a.m. Crews are working to keep runways clear.
“The airport is reporting winds of 42 mph, visibility of a quarter-mile and a ceiling below 1,000 feet,” Ramey said. “They have their work cut out for them.”
The weather service said just north of Durango, 5.3 inches of snow had fallen since the storm began Thursday afternoon, with Rockwood reporting 13.3 inches. Purgatory Resort has received 38 inches in the last four days, including 8 inches in the last 24 hours.
UPDATE: 8 a.m. Friday:
Wolf Creek Pass is closed because of adverse conditions. Coal Bank and Molas passes are closed for avalanche mitigation. There are no estimated times of when any of the passes will open.
UPDATE: 10 p.m. Thursday:
Back-to-back winter storms are bringing deep snow, icy roads and hazardous travel to Southwest Colorado this holiday weekend.
On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service upgraded the storm from a winter weather advisory to a winter storm warning, which is in effect until 6 p.m. Friday.
“Periods of moderate to heavy snow will be possible overnight into Friday morning,” the weather service said in the warning, “with snow rates over an inch per hour possible.”
Durango could receive between 5 and 9 inches from the storm, and visibility may be affected, the forecast said.
The snow is expected to get heavier around midnight and continue through Christmas.
“Sunrise through noon (Friday) looks like a period of some pretty heavy snow,” said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
When the storm moves out of western Colorado, it is expected to settle over eastern New Mexico.
The icy roads didn’t have a chance to melt during the day on Thursday before the next storm set in. The high for the next several days is expected to be only in the low to mid-20s, he said.
“This storm is quite cold,” Phillips said.
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, all roads and passes were open.
The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a warning Thursday for travelers in Southwest and Northwest Colorado and along Interstate 70 over the holiday weekend.
Up to 20 inches of snow are expected in the southern and central mountains through Saturday morning, and all mountain passes, including those along U.S. Highway 550, are expected to be impacted.
The first reports of vehicles sliding off the road began about 1 p.m. Thursday. While there was nothing like the number of collisions and sliding vehicles seen Wednesday, the frequency of reports increased at dark. Motorists are reminded to drive at safe speeds for the conditions, which are expected to get worse as the evening continues.
Three churches – Heart of the Rockies Fellowship, All Saints Anglican Church and the Grace Church – canceled their Christmas Eve services because of weather and road conditions, but most of the congregations in town carried on.
The break in the snowstorm that started Wednesday afternoon allowed crews to reopen U.S. Highway 491 outside Cortez at 1:23 a.m. Thursday, CDOT said. It was closed Wednesday afternoon after a 19-vehicle pileup which involved several semi-trailers.
At 4:47 a.m. Thursday, CDOT once again advised travelers of a closure on U.S. Highway 491 from mile markers 37-53 because of multiple vehicles, including semitrailers, sliding off the road.
The highway reopened for a second time just after 9 a.m.
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